Field Report: Howe Turkey Farm

By Emily Kohlhas. Photos by Emily Teel Just over an hour away from Reading Terminal Market stands The Howe Farm, a stalwart reminder of Downingtown, PA’s agricultural heritage amidst rapid suburbanization.

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Husband and wife team Nate and Julie Howe are the second generation raising holiday turkeys on the farm. Home to nearly 10,000 birds a generation prior, Nate has pared down the flock to a more manageable 3,500. The Howes explain that this makes it easier to care for their birds without using antibiotics or growth hormones. We are excited to add the Howes’ fresh turkeys to our pre-order offerings for Thanksgiving 2013, and in anticipation, Alex, the Farmstand Product Manager and a few staff members paid Nate and Julie a visit for a tour of their farm.

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With their five children in tow, we first peeked inside a large indoor barn housing the eldest of three age groups: more than 1,000 7-week-old Nicholas hens and toms. These broad-breasted white turkeys were first bred in 1939, and Nate heralds the breed for their ease of care and speed of growth.

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With a commitment to hormone and antibiotic-free turkeys, that robust Nicholas growth curve comes in handy: the Howes are able to raise 21-35 pound birds in only 18 weeks, thanks also in part to their holistic philosophy of turkey wellness. Nate has found that a bi-weekly supplement of vitamins and probiotics in their vegetarian feed is more than enough to keep his birds healthy and happy.

Over in the family’s second, larger barn, a group  of  3-week-old turkeys ramble around a roomy enclosure freshly bedded with clean wood shavings. Next door, the adorable 1-week-old poults chirp vigorously as we enter, excited - at least initially - for the thrill of new visitors in their warm and cozy pen.

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For the Fair Food staff, the most exciting part of the tour was seeing the family’s own processing facility. Unlike many other producers who contract with large-scale processing facilities to ready their turkeys for market, Nate and Julie prefer to rally the troops (19 extended family members in total) for a two-and-a-half day turkey marathon right before the holiday (their facilities are USDA inspected and thanks to their small scale, regulations allow them to process on-site). Processing 1,200 birds per day may be hectic, but it allows the family to provide their customers with the Thanksgiving centerpiece they look forward to each year: a fresh - never frozen - locally and naturally raised turkey.

The Howes swear by the tender, juicy meat of a never-frozen bird (not to mention the reduced cooking time!), and we’re eager to share with our customers the treat of a turkey cared for from start to finish by such a charming family. Stay tuned for information on pre-ordering your Thanksgiving bird from Fair Food in early October!